Saturday, February 13, 2010

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines [2006]

First, a disclaimer: This is my first time reading anything by John Green. I haven't read Looking for Alaska. I don't have a crush on Mr. Green due to his YouTube celebrity. In fact, looking at his biography and seeing that he was born (like me) in 1977 kind of makes me depressed, in the same way that Olympic athletes make me depressed, because a) I haven't managed to publish any books, let alone three critically acclaimed books, and b) I will never qualify for the Olympics in any sport, because I am now officially too old to be anything but a spectator. Except maybe in archery? I also see that he went to Kenyon College, which explains some things. Anyway, An Abundance of Katherines is the point at which my dear friend Cassandra recommended that I begin my Green exposure. On to the review.

Colin Singleton is a former child prodigy (specialty: anagramming) who, after being dumped post-high school graduation for the nineteenth time by a girl named Katherine, escapes from Chicago on a road trip with best friend Hassan. At the purported final resting place of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Gutshot, Tennessee, Colin realizes that his chance at "mattering" (both in the world and to Katherine the 19th) lie in completing his Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, a mathematical equation that will be able to predict the outcome of a relationship between any two people. Colin is, to put it bluntly, a socially awkward young man who remembers everything he's ever read and is (thankfully) balanced by Hassan's easygoing good humor and laissez-faire attitude. The relationship between the two is one of the best parts of the book, although sometimes Green perhaps a little too frequently reminds the reader that Hassan is a Muslim. Specifically, a fat Muslim. One also often wonders how it is that Colin has found so many girls willing to date him. I guess Chicago is a big city. The third major character, Lindsey Lee Wells, is struggling, like Colin and Hassan, to find a purpose in life despite being the most popular girl in her small, southern town. Over a summer spent in Gutshot interviewing town members for an oral history project, Hassan, Colin, and Lindsey each take steps toward adulthood, together and separately. A thoroughly enjoyable book stuffed full of factual asides, well-developed primary and secondary characters, math, and, of course, romance.

Grade: A-

Random Thoughts: This was another book that I listened to, rather than read. Overall, the narrator was good at distinguishing between voices and giving characters a variety of southern drawls (not that I would know if his Tennessee accents were accurate, but they sounded fine to me). Upon reviewing the written copy, however, I saw that the downside was threefold: 1) The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, in all its manifestations, is awfully hard to communicate orally, especially the graphs; 2) a lot of the facts so relentlessly communicated by Colin are done so through footnotes, which were sometimes hard to distinguish from dialogue; and 3) there is an author's note and an appendix that were not reproduced in audio format. The appendix discusses the math behind Colin's Theorem, and reading it kind of hurt my brain. If I hadn't listened to the book in the car, though, I doubt I would have gotten around to reading it at all. It seems that in order to be completely thorough, one should listen to the audio version and keep the written copy on hand for clarification (or CD failure). Thank goodness I am thorough.

I also have this vague feeling that I was supposed to fall in love a little with Colin in all his misunderstood nerdiness. I assure you, I didn't, although I managed to enjoy the book despite his various character flaws. Lindsey, on the other hand . . .

1 comment:

Cassandra Mortmain said...

Yessss!! I am so glad you liked it. It's funny, but I hadn't even considered how the textual elements (footnotes, etc.) would be completely different in an audiobook-- I'm also glad you had a text copy on hand for reference, because I feel the footnotes and equations are a huge part of Katherine's charms.

And I have to admit, I'm with you. Colin < Lindsay. She is, I think, my favorite of John Green's heroines, because she's more of a co-protagonist, while Alaska Young (LfA) and Margot Roth-Spiegelman are (admittedly) manic pixie dream girl-esque in their relation to the protagonist. They tend to be the mysterious and elusive catalyst for change rather than characters who growth is also charted throughout the book-- although that's less true of Margot, and not presented obnoxiously in either case.

I bet Looking for Alaska would make a great audiobook, and I think Paper Towns was nominated for an Audie. Just, you know, in case you were curious or anything.